Mushrooming can be a very enjoyable pastime but if you intend to eat your find it can be dangerous. Gathering wild food such as mushrooms, chestnuts or blackberries is an enormous pleasure. Finding, picking and slowly filling your basket with wonderful field mushrooms to be prepared and eaten, and the ‘thrill of the hunt’ undoubtedly does give ‘wild mushrooms’ a special flavour.
Learning about edible fungi. How do we know that we are not collecting toxic fungi? Traditionally we learn from an experienced parent or elder that has been mushrooming for years. The tradition of knowing what was a ‘good mushroom’ has been handed down from parent to child for years. In Australia unlike Europe we do not have a rich knowledge of local folklore passed from generation to generation to identify indigenous fungi. Any person that intends to eat wild fungi must learn to identify precisely which species are edible.
Where does a beginner start?
Often mushrooming starts with a knowledgeable person and this is usually the best place to start. However, not everyone knows someone that has a good knowledge of mushrooms. There are several books that provide information that will help a newcomer to start to identify mushrooms. For a beginner the first stage of mushrooming is to gather and identify them, but not to eat them. If you want to be eat mushrooms after a field trip but are unsure, buy some from the supermarket and save the wild ones only for identification purposes. Often knowledgeable experts conduct ‘mushrooming tours’ where for a few dollars you can join a tour and see firsthand which are the edible wild mushrooms and learn how to identify them. There are several experienced mushroomers conducting tours so why not book in for a couple of tours each season. See our links page for mushroom tours.
When does the mushrooming season start?
Usually mushrooming is associated with autumn and early winter. In Victoria Australia, many of the experts suggest that the season starts on ANZAC day, 25th April, through to the end of June. Mushrooms are not plants and as such their growth rates are not gradual like plants, they can appear very quickly in just a couple of days. They love ‘rainbow days’ these are days with plenty of rain and sunshine.
Which knife makes a good mushroom knife?
Some manufacturers produce special purpose mushroom knives that have a curved blade which is serrated on the back of the blade and has a bristle brush at the other end. The curved blade works well when scraping leaf litter etc from the mushroom caps and the brush is useful for removing dry soil residue. The draw back with these knives is that they are not very good for other tasks. Your mushroom knife might need to double as a picnic knife. The reality is that any knife will work well and if you buy a small bristle brush from a hardware store you have a pretty good combination. The best knife is the one you enjoy using. There is some debate over whether or not mushrooms should be washed. I prefer to gently wash the caps of wild mushrooms because I don’t know what they have been exposed to, toxic chemical sprays or animal feces is a possible contaminant, however I try to keep the gills area dry, especially on the boletus family (sponge shaped gills) as they act like a sponge to absorb water.
Mushrooming for fun People go mushrooming because it’s fun and the resulting savoury meals are most enjoyable. If you are a collector of ‘wild mushrooms’ you should know exactly how to identify them and preferably obtain some training from a local expert: there is no substitute for precise knowledge of the edible species. If there is the slightest doubt as the identity, age, or any other detail, discard the fungus. Don’t take the risk!
Reference resources To help find information about collecting and identifying mushrooms and toadstools, fungi, the following books may be a source of assistance.
A Field Guide To The Fungi of Australia, A.M. Young, UNSW Press; Australian Fungi, I.R. McCann, Macdown Productions; Food For Free, Richard Mabey, Collins; Simon & Schuster’s Mushrooms, Giovanni Pacioni,Simon & Schuster inc; A field guide to Australian Fungi, Bruce Fuhrer, Bloomings Books; The Ultimate Mushroom Book, Peter Jordan & Steven Wheeler, Reed Editions